By Marcos Vilar, Alianza for Progress
For most people, where garbage goes is an “out of sight, out of mind” issue.
Indeed, managed landfills ended age-old worries about filth and the spread of disease from waste. Not having to think much about trash has been assumed to be — for decades — simply, progress.
Yet as we face new challenges that will determine the quality of life for our children and grandchildren, it’s crucial to revisit that old way of thinking. The Alianza family of organizations has already begun.
We turn our attention to the Orange County Landfill, one of the largest in Florida, which is releasing millions of tons of the very gases that cause climate change. National Public Radio just reported, “Three landfills among the nation’s top 10 emitters of methane are near Orlando, according to the EPA. Their collective emissions damage the climate in the near-term as much as all the 1.8 million cars and pickups registered in the three counties where the landfills are located.”
Like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas but it has about 84 times the impact. When food decays in a landfill due to the lack of oxygen, a dangerous pollution blanket of methane is emitted. That — along with carbon-dioxide emissions — is warming the planet with disastrous impacts.
While the Orange County landfill captures some emissions, in 2019, 32,000 metric tons of methane were released from the facility. Orange County was not a top-10 emitter in the previous decade so this rapid increase is concerning. Of course, it’s not just an issue here or in our state. Each day, people in the United States throw away enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks.
Yet while this problem is not unique to Orange County, it is personal to me. As a parent of a high-school student enrolled in the Alianza summer program, my child is passionate about fighting climate change. At camp, they are learning how addressing food waste through composting can be significant in cutting these emissions from landfills. Joining with the other 120 families participating in Alianza’s summer program, we are drawing attention to the methane produced by our local landfills.
Further, we are calling on Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and our county commissioners to take action to dramatically reduce dangerous methane emissions over the next 10 years by ending the landfilling of organic waste and directing large businesses and institutions to begin a food-waste diversion program.
Landfills are a top contributor to man-made methane. By reducing what goes in, our community can cut emissions while improving the health and wealth of our communities. Even well-operated landfills emit significant methane, so let’s eliminate the source.
We have a vision for a community where composting is a thriving and integral component of our food systems, local economy, environmental stewardship and community well-being. To get there, we must learn by doing — “make the road by walking” — by offering composting stations throughout the community, training people in the business of composting, establishing reduction requirements on large generators, with the goal of eliminating methane-producing waste from the landfill.
We know our Puerto Rican, Latino, Caribbean and Black communities crave positive change that makes history in Central Florida. What better milestone than helping our county lead in addressing climate change?
To make that vision a reality, we need our county officials to step up. Our community, business and families are ready to be better stewards of our environment and God-given natural resources. Are you?
Marcos Vilar is executive director of Alianza for Progress. Alianza advances the power of Puerto Ricans and Latinxs by creating winning campaigns that amplify community voices and advance progressive causes to improve the lives of our communities.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.